A hundred thirty years earlier, Mozart had reveled in the fresh, airy lightness of the major tonality which superseded stolid Renaissance modal forms around 1600.
Periodic innovations like these keep music fresh and invigorating. Unfortunately, too many of today’s musicians bloat their playing with endless, unimaginative, repetitive blues licks. Sure, blues licks can add a funky edge, but overuse of these clichés leads to tiresome monotony.
(And so on, and so on….Well, you get the idea!)
So what is the basic blues scale? You can easily derive it starting from a conventional major scale like this C major scale, sometimes referred to as the “Ionian Mode.”
The first of the three “blue notes” is a lowered 7th. Lowering B natural to B flat changes your key signature to one flat, the normal key signature for F major. That’s why blues harp players usually use an F harp for a C blues. You can call this “the C Mixolydian Mode.” A blues played using this mode has a lighthearted, happy air reminiscent of ‘60’s tunes by “The Lovin’ Spoonful.”
The second blue note is a lowered 3rd . Together, those two blue notes change your key signature to two flats, the normal key signature for B flat major. You can call this the Dorian Mode. Since the lowered third gives the Dorian Mode a “minor” feel, a blues played in Dorian Mode has a more biting, “minor-like” quality.The third blue note can either be thought of as a lowered 5th or a raised 4th. This is the most aggressive, militant of the blues notes. Take those three lowered notes (the lowered 7th, 3rd, and 5th ), leave out the 2nd and 6th degrees of the scale, and you’ve got a conventional basic blues scale.
While the masters are well aware of the basic blues scale, they rarely limit themselves to it exclusively. Rather, they generally employ a far more fluid, nuanced palette of resources to create exciting, innovative melodies that satisfy listeners like fine gourmet food and wine.
A master musician like Miles Davis migrates seamlessly between several modes like these.
To illustrate its use, I’ll end this post by playing a phrase I just devised from that scale in all 12 keys. A chart is included below, if you want to practice this invigorating phrase in all 12 keys.